Afghan girls’ robotics team overcomes adversity to win European contest

30 Nov 2017

Members of the Afghan girls’ robotics team arriving in the US in July. Image: jurban/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a year that looked like one of abject disappointment, the now famous Afghan girls’ robotics team has won major silverware in Europe.

In July, a group of Afghan girls made headlines around the world for the great efforts they took to attend a major robotics competition in the US, only to be told that they wouldn’t be allowed into the country.

The team led by Afghanistan’s first woman tech CEO, Roya Mahboob, fought hard to get the right paperwork and eventually managed to make it to the US.

Now, it has been revealed that the girls have arguably secured their greatest achievement yet: winning an award at the Entrepreneurial Challenge at the Robotex festival in Tallinn, Estonia.

According to The New York Times, three of the 12 girls involved in the original team took part in this latest competition and were tasked with building a prototype that could be used to solve real-world problems.

The team’s solution was a robot that uses solar energy to help small farmers in the fields. It was deemed the best solution by the thousands attending the event, who had final say on the winner.

In response to the girls’ success, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UK, Said T Jawad, said: “We are extremely proud of the wonderful accomplishments of the Afghan all-girl robotics team.

“They are an excellent example for people around the world of what can be accomplished by young Afghans if given the right support and the opportunity to excel in their education.”

Mahboob also took to Twitter to say she was “so proud” of the team’s achievement.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a team that had to travel a distance of 800km from Herat to Kabul to obtain their one-week visa, on two occasions, only to be denied entry for the First Global Challenge in the US earlier this year.

Even prior to going to the US, the girls were told the parts they needed to build their robot wouldn’t be sent to them because it was feared they would be handed over to ISIS for bomb-making parts.

As a result, the girls resorted to building their own parts while they waited, only to be told – with three weeks to go before the competition deadline – that the goods were given the all-clear by customs.

Members of the Afghan girls’ robotics team arriving in the US in July. Image: jurban/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic